Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
Directed by Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer
Opens June 3
Right from the beginning of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a very funny mockumentary about fame in a world of oversharing, it’s clear that the doltish rapper of the title, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), has fast-forwarded to the white-dwarf phase of his solo stardom. His downloading of his second album, Connquest, directly onto smart kitchen appliances creates a public-relations nightmare—one angry tweet seen here declares him to be “the Skynet of pop stars.” In this parody of puff pieces like Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, the touring subject comes off not as a gifted boy next door but rather as a guy who can’t do anything right. After a wardrobe malfunction (itself one of the film’s strongest shock laughs) goes viral, he tries to grab some good press by staging an elaborate proposal to his actress girlfriend (Imogen Poots). This, too, backfires spectacularly: The singer Seal, who has been hired to serenade the couple, winds up ravaged by wolves.
The Lonely Island—the trio of Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone—first shot to true stardom roughly a decade ago with SNL digital shorts like the inspired “Jizz in My Pants,” music videos that gently (if profanely) sent up chart-topper bombast. But the fast-moving Popstar, which was co-directed by Schaffer and Taccone (who also co-star as Conner’s boy-band-mates in the late, lamented Style Boyz), finds them sharp as ever at feature length. If closing number “Incredible Thoughts,” essentially a list of increasingly incongruous images and situations, takes the Island’s absurdist wordplay to an extreme, many of the movie’s songs have more specific targets. The genuine earworm “Finest Girl,” which sets up a wildly convoluted comparison between a one-night stand and the bin Laden raid, takes aim at the colossally dumb sexual metaphors and double entendres that have often graced the top 40; “Equal Rights,” a plea for gay marriage the bulk of which Conner spends insisting that he himself is not gay, digs at recording artists’ often misguided (not to mention belated) championing of social issues. And the writing—for which Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone all receive credit—is often very good outside of the lyrics as well. Of the many SNL alums (among them Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader) and musician cameos (Questlove, Mariah Carey, Adam Levine), Will Arnett all but steals the show as a deranged Harvey Levin, permanently brain-frozen from his smoothie and hanging over a cubicle, in a caricature of TMZ’s syndicated half-hour of hot goss.
But it is the tension between the former members of the Style Boyz, rather than any fallout from the retweetable mishaps, that gives Popstar its main narrative through line. Here, the intriguing parallels between the fictional creative unit and the Lonely Island itself help the movie stave off tediousness as it approaches its rather tidy resolution. In the film, Samberg, these days the star of network sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, happens to play the highly visible solo artist, while Taccone’s Owen gets little recognition as his (actually talented) beat-maker, and Schaffer’s illegible beardo Lawrence lives in effective exile on a Colorado farm, bearing one big grudge from the old days. Yet the three have built up enough goodwill as a group that the public, having quickly run out of patience for the self-centered breakout Conner, still wants to see them reunited. The final collaboration-friendly moral might not feel the least bit novel—not to mention somewhat too soft for a movie that can otherwise feel surprisingly brash. But at least it’s easier to stomach when that message is coming from three people who, as Popstar attests, just so happen to do their best work together.